For most of his 15 years in the House, Porter J. Goss had a reputation as a Florida Republican true to his Connecticut and Yale roots: conservative in his outlook but accommodationist in his tactics and rarely itching to start a public fight.
The low-key approach helped the multimillionaire former CIA officer form lasting alliances with many of his Democratic colleagues despite his role in the conservative House GOP leadership. He voiced criticism of both the CIA and the Bush administration during a congressional inquiry into intelligence failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Video: President Bush, nominating Rep. Porter J. Goss to head the CIA, said he is "the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history."
But over the past year or so, Goss's accommodating style on intelligence matters has begun to change. This summer, he took to the floor of the House on behalf of the Bush campaign, leading an unusually pointed attack on Democrats and their presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). He feuded with Democrats on his own House intelligence committee over how deeply the panel should probe intelligence missteps before the Iraq war and other issues.
This apparent transformation appears likely to be at the heart of an extensive Senate debate this fall over Goss's nomination to head the CIA. Republicans yesterday hailed Goss's extraordinary career as both a clandestine intelligence officer and chairman of the House intelligence committee, while Democrats and CIA critics argued that too often he curried favor with the Bush White House and is too closely identified with the hidebound culture of the CIA.
Over the past month, Goss, 65, exhibited little enthusiasm for the broad intelligence changes proposed by the Sept. 11 commission, urging caution instead and proposing legislation to expand the power and budget of his old agency.
"It's regrettable that he's as close to the agency as he is," said Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative Washington think tank. "He's been implicated in the dysfunctional congressional oversight that the 9/11 commission documented. I don't know that those things are disqualifying, but there may be other candidates that are better."
Because of his experience with intelligence, "no one is going to blow smoke at him," said Robert McNamara, former general counsel at the CIA. "But one of his challenges he'll have is to completely divorce himself from the policy side of things."
Bush officials and leading Republicans said yesterday that Goss's history as an old CIA hand and political mediator would serve him well as CIA director, even as Congress and the administration quarrel over proposed changes in the intelligence system during a presidential campaign. Old friends and colleagues from both parties also said that the skills needed to steer the CIA are similar to those used by Goss 30 years ago, when he began as a small-town Florida mayor balancing the needs of environmentalists and land developers.
Sen. Bob Graham, the departing Florida Democrat, worked closely with Goss during the Sept. 11 inquiry and on numerous other intelligence issues over the years. When Graham was Florida's governor, he appointed Goss, then the GOP mayor of Sanibel, to the Lee County Commission, which had been rocked by scandal over the construction of a regional airport.
"He helped bring the commission back to a position of public respect," Graham said.
Goss's time in Lee County also provided a glimpse of his early concerns about terrorism -- including the commission's purchase in the 1980s of eight Uzi submachine guns for police officers at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport.
Goss grew up in Waterbury, Conn. He attended the Hotchkiss preparatory school and went on to Yale University, where he joined the Army ROTC, majored in ancient Greek and had his first encounter with the CIA.
He worked in the CIA's clandestine operations division over the next decade, recruiting and supervising spies in Central America and Western Europe, though Goss has always declined to provide many details. In 1970, during a trip to Washington from London, Goss collapsed from a blood infection that attacked his heart and kidneys. The illness required months of difficult recuperation.
The CIA offered him a desk job, but Goss reluctantly decided to retire from the agency instead. He moved to Sanibel Island, an environmentally pristine enclave of high-end homes near Fort Myers on Florida's west coast that is also home to many former clandestine officers. With two other agency veterans, Goss started a local newspaper, the Island Reporter. He made his first venture into politics during the development wars that roiled Florida in the 1970s.